Riley Breckenridge of Thrice
MIKE SIMMON: How’s the tour going?
RILEY BRECKENRIDGE: It’s been really good. It’s crazy there are only eight shows left and it doesn’t really seem like that. It’s kind of flown by, which is an indication of how well it’s been going. It’s been really fun. The bands are cool. The guys are fun to hang out with. The shows have been going well and it’s just been a lot of fun.
M: Are you guys on a tour bus?…
M: Just Thrice in the tour bus?…
M: So, who uhh… Is there a spooner in the group?
R: Uhh… (everyone chuckles) No, not on this tour. We did have a tour once where we had a merch guy that had night terrors. So we’d all be sleeping while driving along and then in the middle of the night you’d just hear, “Hey. Heeeey. Heeeeeeeeeey.” Just screaming, like he was getting tortured. So we’d open up his bunk and say, “Dude, are you alright? You ok?” and he’d have no idea that it was going on. He’d be dreaming that some demon was ripping his heart out or something. But it was only when he drank, so if he went out with his friends after the show and came back saying “Hey guys I’m gonna go to bed (in Riley’s best drunken slur)” then we’d know everybody should wear earplugs tonight, or put your ear-buds in on your iPod and get ready for some midnight screams… But yeah, no spooners. Everybody here is pretty tame.
M: That’s good. No one gets lonely?
R: No. Well… I can’t speak for everybody, but I’m sure if they do get lonely they take care of business… Wherever they might do that. (chuckles).
M: Are you guys playing a lot of the new stuff during this tour?
R: Yeah a pretty decent amount. I think about two to three songs from each of the EP’s. On this tour it’s different from most for us. Usually we’ll build a set list during rehearsals before the tour and stick with that set list for the whole tour. At times that kind of gets boring just cause you get on autopilot knowing what songs come next. It has it’s positives cause the set flows better and everybody knows what’s coming. But to keep things fresh on this tour we have a pool of 34 songs and we’ll play about 20 of them a night, so every night there’s different songs in there.
M: How are the crowds responding to the new stuff? Has it been a positive response?
R: Yeah it’s been good. It’s been hard for us, back in the day everything we were playing was hard, fast, and loud, the kids would mosh, and maybe that’s a good indication of whether they were into it or not. So if you saw people running around in circles and beating each other up, you were like, “Alright. They’re getting it.” But now we have songs that are really mellow and it’s not an aggression thing, it’s more of an atmospheric thing. It’s taken us awhile to realize that people can stand, watch, and sing along and that’s okay. People don’t have to go crazy all the time to show that they appreciate what you’re doing. We’ve been talking to people after the shows and they’ve been saying that they really like the new stuff a lot, live and on record, so it’s been pretty good.
M: Was it the entire band’s decision to carry into this new direction?
R: I wouldn’t even call it a decision, cause it wasn’t like we sat down and said “We’re going to be different now.” Over the years the scope of bands that we listen to, and are influenced by, has grown so much. Back in the old days it was a lot of punk rock, a lot of hardcore, a lot of metal. Obviously if that’s what you listen to a lot then that’s what’s going to influence you the most. Over the past four or five years we’ve started listening to so many different types of music and learning to appreciate more than just punk, hardcore, and metal. We’re influenced by these different styles, so when we sit down to write, sometimes stuff like that comes out. When we go to make a record we use all the parts that everybody has compiled and written on their own, to try and make songs out of it. If there’s some piano based stuff, or electronic stuff, or acoustic stuff, we feel like nothing is off limits or that anything is too “un-thrice” to put into a song. There shouldn’t be any rules, it’s music. There shouldn’t be any rules that you should have to follow, so that’s how we approach it and that’s how we’ve got to where we are right now.
M: You can definitely tell that it’s been an organic change so to speak, just because it feels honest.
R: That’s a good thing.
BRANDON RUSSELL: You guys had the entire Alchemy Index recorded from the beginning, so was it hard waiting through the period between the release of 1 & 2 and 3 & 4?
R: Yeah it sucked. With any record, the label wants “x” amount of time to set it up and do whatever they do. As soon as you finish something, and it’s mixed and mastered, you want people to hear it. So it’s so hard to sit on it. With The Alchemy Index it was such an expansive project that when we released half of it people were like, “Oh this is cool, I like it.” But there was this whole other half that completes the entire project and nobody could hear what else we had, what we’d been sitting with for six-months. I’m just glad that it’s all out there now. People can now understand how big of an undertaking it was and how diverse it is. We went back and forth trying to figure out how to release the EP’s. For awhile we were just going to put it all out at once, then, “Lets split it up,” or, “Should we do this EP with that EP, or this with this?” I think it worked out splitting it up because it gave people time to sit with the half of it and digest, but it was nerve-racking for us having the other half sitting, wanting people to hear it, but not having it out there.
B: Where’d the concept for the four EP album come from, who came up with that?
R: Dustin. He comes to us with a lot of off the wall concepts. We were touring in a van and he woke up and was like, “Dude, I just had this weird idea. What if we made four EP’s based on the four elements”. At first we were like, “Okay.. I don’t really get it,” but he thought about it more, thought about how he’d theme the lyrics. Then we all sat down and discussed what sonnet qualities each EP would have. From there it was a pretty exciting idea for us. It was just something different to do. If you count it as a double album it’s albums 5 and 6, or 6 and 7, or something. So it was just a different way to approach writing and recording and releasing the records.
M: I was just saying to Brandon on the way over here that it’s cool how you guys aren’t making the same album over and over again.
R: It works for some bands, but I just think we’re too restless and too intrigued by other styles of music to just listen to it, we want to try and play it or try to incorporate it into what we do. There are some bands that have been making very similar sounding records for 20 or 30 years and are very successful doing that, but I guess it’s just different stokes for different folks.
M: For this new stuff, what have the main influences been for all of you guys?
R: For a lot of the Water EP, stuff like Radiohead, Massive Attack a little bit, more electronic stuff. For the Air disc we’ve got everything from Arcade Fire, to Explosions in the Sky, to Mono, a lot of post-rock stuff to acoustic stuff. A song like “As the Crow Flies”, which is all acoustic with just Dustin singing, not really sure where that came from. Fire stuff, just anything heavy that we’ve been listening to, Isis, Pelican, there’s a band called Bark Market, who was around in the mid-nineties, that’s an awesome really heavy band that not a lot of people know about, that was definitely an inspiration on the Fire stuff. Earth was anything from blues, to jazz, to singer/songwriter stuff. Tom Waits, just all over the place. It’s crazy how different everybody’s tastes are in the band. I listen to a lot of heavy stuff. I listen to a lot of electronic stuff, a lot of post-rock stuff. Dustin listens to a lot of alt-country stuff and indy stuff. Teppei is a Beatles fanatic. Ed likes Sufjan Stevens and Talk Talk. It’s just so all over the place. Everything we listen to influences us consciously and subconsciously.
M: That’s a good thing, bringing in all those different influences…
R: Yeah, it keeps it exciting. It keeps it fresh. It’s always fun to try new things. We never want to go into making a record saying, “Oh, we’re doing this again.” It’s all about experimenting and trying new stuff.
M: Was there a portion of the album that was more difficult to write?
R: The most difficult thing for us was to make each record feel balanced. I’m trying to think of the best way to describe that… Like the Air disc, it’s got some acoustic stuff, it’s got an up-tempo song, it’s got a really slow song, it’s got a song that’s kind of electronic and the reason that it’s like that is because we wanted to make it feel balanced. We didn’t want everything to be acoustic on that record, or everything to be slow. The Fire stuff, some of it is kind of sludgy and heavy, but we wanted to have some songs that were also upbeat and up-tempo to balance that. So it was difficult to take the ideas we had and, then when we were writing songs, make the EP’s feel balanced.
M: Were there any specific songs that just came together? Any songs that just seemed to “happen”?
R: “Come All Ye Weary” was a song that we jammed out one day and were like, “Alright. That’s cool. Lets record it.” One of the goals for this project was to not spend too much time demoing and dissecting songs, and rewriting. That’s been something that has been really frustrating for us in the past. You demo a song, then make changes, then demo it again, then you make more changes, then you demo it again. Then you work with a producer and you do pre-production demos. Then he cuts those up, then you change something else, then you get into the studio and record them. There was one song on Vheissu that we did 8 to 10 different demos for. Then, when we were in the studio, we recorded it four times over and over, changing the key, changing the tempo, and all this stuff. By the time we were actually done with it, we were so sick of the song because we beat it up so much that it’s not even out, it’s not even anywhere to be found. So (for The Alchemy Index) we just tried to keep things as in the moment as possible. It wasn’t about trying to get the perfect take. It was about trying to get the take where the vibe was right even if somebody made a tiny mistake or something was slightly out of tune. It was about making things sound real. I’m kind of bummed out about newer recordings that just sound all chopped up and robotic almost, there’s no human element to it. So we tried to make this as human and real as possible.
M: On this album, the last songs on each EP has the same ending, where did that come from?
R: Dustin is really into the idea of doing the sonnets lyrical because he’s a big fan of reading sonnets and he thought that might be a cool way to approach lyric writing. There’s a pretty strict structure to follow. So musically, because the last couplet is always the same, we thought it would be really cool to tie all four EP’s together by ending them with the same chord progression, the same melody, the same feel. We were thinking early on that we would have songs you could play on top of each other like the Flaming Lips’ record. We decided not to do that, but instead, to tie all four EP’s in with that couplet at the end of the sonnet.
M: Do you have a favorite song off The Alchemy Index?
R: I really like to listen to “The Whaler”. It’s pretty fun to play too because it’s a different kind of dynamic in the set. I play it over an electronic loop and just get lost in that. I really like “The Messenger” also, I like to play that one. It changes, sometimes, a song that might not be my favorite to listen to on the EP takes on a totally new life live when people really appreciate it and sing along. I get something out of that. That makes it something exciting to play for me. A song like “Digital Sea” where I’m just playing over an electronic loop, it’s not like I’m doing something that’s particularly involved outside of staying with that electronic loop, but people seem to like it. That’s cool for me. I’m not all about, “Look what I’m doing.”
B: How was Thrice’s recent appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien?
R: Scary! Those things are always really, really nerve-racking. I would have panic dreams about it ever since we were confirmed to do it. (In the dreams) I’d be freaking out like, “Oh I don’t have any sticks,” or, “I can’t hear the rest of the band,” or, “Wait, we’re playing this song?! I thought we were playing ‘Come All Ye Weary’.” It’s something you look forward too and you’re anxious about, then you get there and it’s kind of surreal and you’re really nervous. Then all of the sudden you’re being taped “live” and it’s really scary. But then once you finish it, it’s the coolest rush and is so exciting. Especially when it goes well, which I think it did. Dustin had a little bit of a cold but I think he was a trooper and he fought through that. We were all happy with how it came out. It’s cool to have everything go smooth and feel that rush and then get text messages from your friends and family saying, “I saw you guys! So cool!”
B: I see you’re wearing an Invisible Children bracelet, was “Image of the Invisible” (off of Vheissu) written about their story?
R: No, that was actually like a really eerie coincidence. We shot that video before a tour we did with Underoath. The concept was something that Dustin and Gerard White, from My Chemical Romance, came up with when we were on tour with them. Then we shot the video, edited, and finished it. We got on the Underoath tour and Tim, from Underoath, brought one of the Invisible Children discs over to watch. The similarities between our music video and the Invisible Children video were kind of eerie. The video is really, really moving. We were all blown away by it and wanted to get involved. Because of how eerily similar the videos were, we saw it as a sign that we needed to get involved, so now they’re (Invisible Children) out on this tour. They’ve been at every show and we encourage people to go learn about stuff, watch their DVD’s, and see if they can get involved. Hopefully it’s working. They’ve said they’ve had some really good nights and talked to a lot of kids.
B: Have you guys made any trips out to Africa with them?
R: No. But Dustin was actually going to go out to Africa. This is a speculation, but I think it might have been around the time when he found out his wife was pregnant, so that kind of made things complicated. He didn’t want to bail to Africa with a baby on the way. I don’t know if I could hold myself together if I went out there. I watch the DVD’s and I’m sobbing. I would like to go out there and help out, but I don’t know how I could go out there and keep my composure. The guys in the video hold it together most of the time, but some of the stuff they see and hear… I have a soft spot for that stuff so I get tore up a little bit.
B: I’ve also heard that Thrice donates a portion of record sales to different non-profit charities, is that true or just rumors?
R: Yeah it’s true, it’s portions of the retail sales of the CD’s. It’s something that started when we signed with , our first label that we put out Identity Crisis and Illusion of Safety on. That whole label is setup to increase awareness, in the punk and hardcore community, about how easy it is to get involved in charity. Whether it’s making a monetary donation and/or donating your time, your skills. We just feel really blessed to do what we do for a living and hope that by making a charitable donation we can show people that you don’t have to be the hugest band in the world to donate. You don’t have to be a famous person to help somebody out. You don’t have to be Oprah or Bill Gates and have billions of dollars, obviously that helps but a lot of small contributions will add up.
B: Going off that topic, there’s a definite spiritual aspect to your music, though not in a preaching way. What are Thrice’s views in the area of religion?
R: We don’t have a platform as a band, so to say. We all believe in different things. A few of us go to church and couple of us don’t. We’ve always made it a point not to be preachy because that’s never been a goal of ours. I think the spirituality in the lyrics is because Dustin writes all of the lyrics. He writes about stuff that matters to him, and he’s very into his faith, searching for answers, and just learning. When he’s writing about spirituality it’s not, “This is what you need to believe,” it’s, “These are the struggles I’m having with my faith,” and, “This is how I’m searching for answers,” and, “This is where I might be finding them or not finding them,” or, “This is what confuses me about faith.” It’s not like, “This is how you have to do this,” or, “There is only one way.” Which is really cool because I’m not a religious person and he is super open to that. He’ll sit down to talk to me about stuff, if I have questions he’ll answer them. It’s much better than being judgmental or backhanding you with some kind of religious stuff.
M: Looking into the future, does Thrice already have concepts that you guys are trying to work out? Or are you just chilling right now and not writing?
R: We’re kind of chilling. The way we’ve always done things as a band, as far as writing goes, is everybody works on their own and there’s very little sharing of ideas. I kind of think that’s the way we work best. Everybody is working on stuff individually and then after this tour we’ll go home and decompress a little bit, hang out with friends and family, and then probably start kicking some ideas around, sending mp3’s back and forth, sharing ideas, and then get together in the studio to try and hash those out. It’s the same as making any other record. I think we’re all really excited about what’s going to be next even though we don’t know what that is. Partially because we don’t know what it is, and there’s something exciting about the unknown. Also because it feels like, after we did The Alchemy Index, there’s such a broader pallet that we can work from when we’re painting this picture that is an album… If you were going to paint a picture and you have one of those little watercolor kits that only has eight colors and you’re like, “Man, I really want to paint this picture but I’m kind of limited by these colors.” You can mix and match but it’s never exactly what you want it to be. But now it feels like we have this pallet with 64 colors and it’s super exciting. We learned so much making The Alchemy Index that it’s going to be awesome to apply that to whatever comes next.